Thursday, September 13, 2012

Preparing for Ordination

I was, you know, OLD, when I went to seminary.  I was fifty-four years old.  And so I went with one objective in  mind: ordination to the ministry of word and sacrament.  I was no longer "exploring possibilities."  I had spent a long, long time listening to God, most recently in that year, two years previous, of the Spiritual Exercises, and I was focused and determined.

(When I had begun the Spiritual Exercises in September, I had told my spiritual director, a then-75-year-old-Jesuit, that I had been considering that I might be called to ministry in my own church, but that that was clearly a ridiculous idea, since I was already in  my fifties and well into my second career.  There was, I announced, no reason for us to discuss such an absurd topic.  He nodded and proceeded to listen to me ramble my way through my prayer life, such as it was.  In the middle of that year, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the long period in the Exercises in which one plunges deeply into the life of Jesus through day after day after day of imaginative prayer, I walked into my director's office one morning and announced, "I'm going to seminary!"  He looked up and said, "Well -- get going!")

I had, of course, no idea what I was doing.  

There were a lot of difficult aspects to the first year of seminary.  Some time ago, I discovered a small journal I had been required to keep, and I was surprised by how frustrated and sad I had been.  

It was difficult to find my footing in a place in which so many of the students seemed to be young and enthusiastic evangelicals, formed by youth ministry and college mission trip experiences, and in which the more charismatic members of the faculty catered to precisely that group.  I didn't know what to make of any of them, students or faculty.  

It was difficult to reorient my days to lunch. I have long been inclined to eat lunch in solitude, withdrawing from the world swirling around me, but in a school of so many commuters, it immediately became evident that if I were going to make friends, lunch would be the place.

It was difficult to be the new girl in town and at the bottom of the totem pole.  We've lived in our city for over thirty-five years; I was in a little bit of a state of shock the first afternoon as I looked around the dining room and realized that I knew no one.  I was accustomed to being a professional in the workplace, as an attorney, a college instructor, and a teacher, and a leader in the local church; suddenly I was expected to call professors "Dr." and no one had the slightest interest in anything that I brought to the academic table.

My weekly theological conclusions, Monday to Thursday, ran something like this:  Hmmm, if this is what it's about, then: I'm not Presbyterian.  I'm not Protestant.  I'm not Christian.  I'm not a person who believes in God.  Then I would return to my home church over the week-end and breathe a sigh of relief to discover that I was, indeed, all of those things.

Gradually, I figured it out.  I made a few good friends, of all ages.  I got involved in the Peace and Justice Fellowship.  Some of my classes, even those huge lectures, were absorbing.  (Some most definitely were not.  And Greek was unmitigated misery.)  I had fun at lunchtime.  I was totally invigorated by my new life, leapt into my clinical pastoral education at The Cleveland Clinic within a few days of my last exam, and could hardly wait to get back to school.

And then Josh died.


  1. How has what you learned in seminary helped you since Josh's death?

  2. Graham's Mom, I wish I could tell you that seminary offered some kind of something that helped, but when it comes to survival after the suicide of a child, I don't know that seminary is more or less tolerable than anyplace else on this planet.

    I learned some academic things that helped. Psalm 88; Miroslav's Wolf's The End of Memory. I had some wonderful friends who stuck with me and a couple of professors who listened.

    The only thing that really, really helped in the first few years was the people who listened to me, along with a gradual recognition of God present in silence. That's part of why I'm so passionate about spiritual direction. There's an awful lot of talking in seminary.

  3. I love hearing your story, it gives me hope. Hope for what, I'm not sure, but hope! And I am *so* glad that you have done this - what a gift you are in the world!

  4. Your last sentence is no longer the end of your story. That gives us all hope. What a journey, my friend, and I am so glad you undertook it. It's working.

  5. It's so good to come here and learn more about this journey. It's encouraging to me. Thank you for telling us about it.

  6. I have said this before but I will say it again: you are a woman of incredible courage and faith.

    1. That's very kind of you, Lynda, but clearly I am a poor communicator if I have left you with that impression!